Title: If This Isn't Nice, What is? Advice to the Young - The Graduation Speeches.
Author: Kathryn Lasky.
Genre: Non-fiction, how-tos, humour.
Publication Date: 2001. (speeches from years 1978, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2004).
Summary: Kurt Vonnegut was a celebrated commencement address giver but, never having graduated college, his words to any class of graduating seniors always carried the delight, and gentle irony, of someone savoring an achievement he himself had not had occasion to savor on his own behalf. The book includes nine of Vonnegut's speeches, seven given at colleges, one to the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, one on the occasion of him receiving the Carl Sandburg award. In each of these talks he takes pains to find the few things worth saying and a conversational voice to say them in that isn't heavy-handed or pretentious or glib, but funny and serious and joyful even if sometimes without seeming so.
My rating: 7.5/10
♥ How do jokes work? The beginning of each good one challenges you to think. We are such earnest animals. Why does a chicken cross the road? Why does a fireman wear red suspenders? Why did they bury George Washington on the side of a hill?
The second part of the joke announces that nobody wants you to think, nobody wants to hear your wonderful answer. You are so relieved to at last meet somebody who doesn't demand that you be intelligent. You laugh for joy.
♥ I am being so silly because I pity you so much. I pity all of us so much. Life is going to be very tough again, just as soon as this is over. And the most useful thought we can hold when all hell cuts loose again is that we are not members of different generations, as unlike, as some people would have us believe, as Eskimos and Australian Aborigines. We are all so close to each other in time that we should think of ourselves as brothers and sisters. I have several children - seven, to be exact - too many children for an atheist, certainly. Whenever my children complain about the plane to me, I say, "Shut up! I just got here myself. Who do you think I am - Methuselah? You think I like the news of the day any better than you do? You're wrong."
We are all experiencing more or less the same lifetime now.
♥ What is is the slightly younger people want from the slightly older people? More than anything, I think, they want acknowledgement, and without further ado, that they are without question women and men now. Slightly older people are intolerably stingy about making any such acknowledgement.
♥ I realize that you graduates are all specialized in some way. But you have spent most of the past sixteen or more years learning to read and write. People who can do those things well, as you can, are miracles and, in my opinion, entitle us to suspect that we may be civilized after all. It is terribly hard to learn to read and write. It takes simply forever. When we scold our schoolteachers about the low reading scores of their students, we pretend that it is the easiest thing in the world: to teach a person to read and write. Try it sometime, and you will discover that it is nearly impossible.
♥ I come to a close now by noting that the press, whose business is to know and understand everything, often find young people to be apathetic (especially when pundits and commentators can't think of anything else to write about or talk about). The new generation of graduates has failed to eat a certain vitamin or mineral perhaps, iron perhaps. They have tired blood. They need Geritol. Well, as a member of a zippier generation, with sparkle in its eyes and a snap in its stride, let me tell you what kept us as high as kites a lot of the time: hatred.
All my life I've had people to hate - from Hitler to Nixon, not that those two are at all comparable in their villainy. It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate. If you want to feel ten feet tall and as though you could run a hundred miles without stopping, hate beats pure cocaine any day. Hitler resurrected a beaten, bankrupt, half-starved nation with hatred and nothing more. Imagine that.
So it seems quite likely to me that young people of today in the United States of America are not in fact apathetic, but only look that way to people who are used to getting their ecstasies from hatred, among other things, of course. The members of your graduating class are not sleepy, are not listless, are not apathetic. They are simply performing the experiment of doing without hate. Hate is the missing vitamin or mineral or whatever in their diet, they have sensed correctly that hate in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide. This is a very exciting thing they are doing, and I wish them well.
♥ While I'm at it, get a load of this: The atomic bomb which we dropped on the people of Hiroshima was first envisioned by a woman, not a man. She was, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. She didn't call it an "atomic bomb." She called it "the monster of Frankenstein."
♥ Some of you may become psychologists or ministers. In either case, you are going to have to deal with men, women, and children whose lives are being damaged by our country's astronomical divorce rate. You should know that when a husband and wife fight, it may seem to be about money or sex or power.
But what they're really yelling at each other about is loneliness. What they're really saying is, "You're not enough people."
♥ I hope you know that television and computers are no more your friends, and no more increasers of your brainpower, than slot machines. All they want is for you to sit still and buy all kinds of junk, and play the stock market as thouh it were a game of blackjack.
And only well-informed, warm-hearted people can teach others things they'll always remember and love. Computers and TV don't do that.
A computer teaches a child what a computer can become.
And educated human being teaches a child what a child can become.
♥ I thank you for becoming educated. By becoming reasonable and informed persons, you have made this a more rational world than it was before you got here. I give you my word of honor that you graduates are near the very top of the best news I ever heard. By working so hard at becoming wise and reasonable and well-informed, you have made our little planet, our precious little moist, blue-green ball, a saner place than it was before you got here.
♥ And keep that kid the hell away from computers and TV sets, unless you want ti to be a lonesome imbecile, who steals money from your purse so it can buy stuff.
Don't give up on books. They feel so good - their friendly heft. The sweet reluctance of their pages when you turn them with your sensitive fingertips. A large part of our brains is devoted to deciding whether what our hands are touching is good or bad for us. Any brain worth a nickel knows books are good for us.
And don't try to make yourself an extended family out of ghosts in the Internet.
Get yourself a Harley and join the Hell's Angels instead.
♥ But about my Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now. One of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
♥ I'll pass on to you what another Methuselah said to me. He's Joe Heller, author, as you know, of Catch-22. We were at a party thrown by a multi-billionaire out on Long Island, and I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel to realize that only yesterday our host probably made more money than Catch-22, one of the most popular books of all time, has grossed worldwide over the past forty years?"
Joe said to me, "I have something he can never have."
I said, "What's that, Joe?"
And he said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
♥ But most graduates, any place you care to name, have been of use locally rather than nationally, and have commonly been rewarded with modest amounts of money or fame - or sometimes, more's the pity, with utterly undeserved ingratitude.
In time, this will prove to have been the destiny of most, but not all of you. You will find yourselves building or strengthening your communities. Please love that destiny, if it turns out to be yours - for communities are all that's substantial about the world.
♥ If I have offended some of you by speaking ill of Thomas Jefferson, tough titty for you. I can say anything I please, short of shouting "Fire!" if there is no fire, because I am a citizen of the U.S.A. Your government does not exist and should not exist in order to keep you or anybody else, no matter what color, no matter what race, no matter what religion, from getting your damn fool feelings hurt.
♥ But I will say this:
No matter how corrupt and greedy our government and our corporations and our media and Wall Street and our religious and charitable organizations may become, the music will still be perfectly wonderful.
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC.
♥ "Do unto others as yo would have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese, five hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks.
♥ For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
♥ In case you hadn't noticed, they cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt which you'll be asked to repay.
Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because big money and TV have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the FBI, and We the People.
♥ And when my tantrum, which is what I call my TV set, flashes boobs and smiles in my face, and says everybody but me is going to get laid tonight, and this is a national emergency, so I've got to rush out and buy a car or pills, or a folding gymnasium I can hide under my bed, I laugh like a hyena. I know and you know that millions and millions of good Americans, present company not excepted, are not going to get laid tonight.
♥ That wage earners, without social position or higher education or wealth, are of inferior intellect is surely belief by the fact that two of the most splendid writers and speakers on the deepest subjects in American history were self-taught workmen. I speak, of course, of Carl Sandburg of Illinois, and Abraham Lincoln, of Kentucky, then Indiana, and finally Illinois.
♥ About Stalin's shuttered churches, and those in China today: Such apprehension of religion was supposedly justified by Karl Marx's statement that "Religion is the opium of the people." Marx said that back in 1844, when opium and opium derivatives were the only effective pain killers anyone could take. Marx himself had taken them. He was grateful for the temporary relief they had given him. He was simply noticing, and surely not condemning, the fact that religion could also be comforting to those in economic or social distress. It was a casual truism, not a dictum.
♥ Dostoevsky suggested that one sacred memory from childhood was perhaps the best education. I say to you that one plausible, romantic theory about humanity is perhaps the best prize you can take away form a university.
♥ My politics in a nutshell: let's stop giving corporations and newfangled contraptions what they need, and get back to giving human beings what we need.
♥ I apologize. I said I would apologize; I apologize now. I apologize because of the terrible mess the planet is in. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any "Good Old Days," there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, "Don't look at me. I just got here myself."
So you know what I'm going to do? I declare everybody her a member of Generation A. Tomorrow is another day for all of us.
♥ Now this gathering is a work of art. The teacher whose name I mentioned when we all remembered good teachers asked me one time, "What is it artists do?" And I mumbled something. "They do two things," he said. "First, they admit they can't straighten out the whole universe. And then second, they make at least one part of it exactly as it should be. A blob of clay, a square of canvas, a piece pf paper, or whatever." We have all worked so hard and well to make these moments and this place exactly what it should be.
♥ There was one thing I forgot to say, and I promised I would say, and that is, "We love you. We really do."
♥ The people I admire the heck out of today are those who built cities like this, with universities like this one, with symphony halls like that one, with art museums like the one over there somewhere, with libraries in every neighborhood. And the churches and hospitals. And the factories and stores. Utopia.
I'm talking to TV celebrities in airplanes again.
Hey, you monstrously overpaid electronic twerps:
"Down here" is where the real lives are led.
♥ Some of you won't stay home. But please don't forget where you came from. I never did.
Notice when you're happy, and know when you've got enough.
As for throwing money at problems: that's what money is for.
♥ You have been called "Generation X."
You're as much generation A as Adam and Eve were.
As I read the book of Genesis, God didn't give Adam and Eve a whole planet.
He gave them a manageable piece of property, for the sake of discussion let's say two hundred acres.
I suggest to you Adams and Eves that you set as you goals the putting of some small part of the planet into something like safe and sane and decent order.
There's a lot of cleaning up to do.
There's a lot of rebuilding to do, both spiritual and physical.
And, again, there's going to be a lot of happiness. Don't forget to notice!